In 2017, it was reported that 2.8% of the entire workforce in the United States (3.7 million to be exact) work from home for at least half the time. And that number is only growing – in fact, Business Insider reports that 50% of all workers will be working remotely by 2020. (Seeing as how we’re writing this in July 2019, that date is creeping closer and closer.)
Now, when you have remote employees, you’re up against certain challenges that you don’t usually experience when you have everyone working in the same building. How you usually run things in an office setting doesn’t always translate right with your remote staff.
What are the most common problems that remote employees are up against?
- limited communication with management and fellow co-workers
- working hours are not set (there is no 8-to-5)
- technical limitations (no company computer or email)
- low engagement
- a lack of company culture
On top of all that, a Harvard study of 1,100 employees discovered that most remote workers feel left out and shunned from their company, coworkers, and management.
So you see that the challenges you’re up against are dramatically different when you have remote employees but when you’re more conscious of a few unique tips and tricks, you will improve engagement, productivity, and team cohesion. We outline the top challenges you face (some you might not even be aware of) and the solutions to help you manage, engage, and retain your remote employees.
Top Challenges When Managing Remote Employees
Internal Communication Problems
We could write an entire 2,000+ word blog on this issue alone – communication is a huge issue when managing remote employees. Your employees need to understand the company they’re working for and what your mission is. They need all the necessary information to perform their roles well, to remain compliant, to provide amazing service. They need to know where or who to speak with for support, to share thoughts, and offer feedback.
In the Buffer study, 21% of remote workers said that their biggest struggle was collaborating/communicating so that should act as a huge wakeup call when it comes to managing remote employees.
As a manager, you know that effective and efficient communication is key for success and that is especially true when managing remote employees. (And if you’re interested in building your own internal communication strategy, our free eBook can get you started.)
Most companies report higher productivity when working with remote staff but there can be a few hiccups in terms of scheduling.
If your employees are scattered across different time zones, coordinating times to chat can be troublesome. Plus, updating them of important changes or updates may come too late. Additionally, there is no set schedule that remote employees work off of – they aren’t clocked in at 8AM and are clocking out at 5PM.
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Language & Cultural Differences
When you have a globally diverse staff, you are presented with some challenges, such as cultural and language divides.
These differences between employees will impact and influence how they interact with one another, how they prioritize tasks, what they believe is a success and more. Therefore, as a manager, you have to know how to properly navigate these differences so you can reap the benefits of having a globally diverse staff.
Additionally, there can be instances where managers favor an employee over another because they have similar work habits and processes so it’s easier to send them tasks. However, this will cause resentment and low productivity. Plus, favoritism may hinder you from hiring people from different cultures and that only limits the advantages you bring in from having a diverse remote team.
Tracking & Measuring Performance
When managing remote employees, you have to make sure they finish all tasks on time, efficiently, and per the company’s standards. Although some remote employees may think that just because they delivered a task on time is good enough, you might not see it the same way. Or maybe you have a remote employee who believes engaging in work for a certain number of hours in a day is good enough. Both ideals make it super difficult to measure and track their performance.
Either way, you are faced with two big challenges in managing remote employees when it comes to tracking performance: making sure all work is completed and that your remote employees are using their time appropriately and efficiently.
Lack of Trust
When you have face-to-face interactions and daily communication, you automatically create trust and are able to bond better. Although when you have remote employees, you don’t have that same advantage, and that leads to trust issues and cohesion between you and the employees, which can only lead to cohesion amongst employees.
Therefore, the following is assumed by remote employees:
- Team building games and exercises, along with trust exercises, are incredibly important to implement.
- Managers should be comfortable trusting remote employees and giving them freedom.
- There may be less oversight when managing remote employees.
If you are a manager who micromanagers then you will probably never feel totally comfortable with providing slack and freedom to your remote employees so they can complete tasks at their own pace and their working styles.
Lack of a Company Culture
Positive company culture can bring productivity, morale, and engagement way up, but when your remote employees feel like it’s a “us versus them” situation, there is a serious problem that isn’t being addressed. If you use negative or passive language about remote employees with employees who are in the office with you every day, you are creating a separation between teams and are establishing a negative working relationship. A lack of company culture means there is no comradery, no platform for anyone’s feedback to be heard, no recognition for a job well done, and more.
Now that we have touched on what the top challenges are when managing remote employees, we need to shift to the solutions when managing remote employees.
Top Solutions When Managing Remote Employees
Streamline Internal Communication
There are a number of ways that you can tackle the communication challenges you face when managing remote employees:
Create Clear Communication Channels & Guidelines
Your employees need to know just how and when these channels will be used. Such as one-to-one chats, team meetings, or open forums for feedback and ideas. Make sure that you “check-in” on a regular basis so remote employees can see that you are reachable and that you’re concerned about their well-being. The last thing you want is for them to feel like they’re “out of sight, out of mind”.
Make it crystal clear if you need your remote staff to be available during certain hours or if they should use one channel over another. Don’t assume they know what you want, spell it out!
Keep Availability Transparent
Always make sure that your calendar is up to date, add status updates to your social media channels, and block out dates on your calendar when you’re out of the office or will be in the employee’s area. You can even allocate a set time and day each week or month to hold a virtual ‘open door’ event, when your employees know that you’re available all day long so they can approach you at any time.
Make sure your remote employees do the same with you. If there are certain hours they cannot be disturbed (doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher conferences, etc.), make sure they block it out on their calendar or tell you ahead of time.
Communication needs to be a two-way street. You should be able to reach your employees, the same way they need to be able to reach you. However, don’t limit your conversations to just when a crisis occurs or something needs clearing up. Encourage your employees to share their feedback, thoughts, and ideas with you. Acknowledge when your employees reach out with feedback so that they feel as they’re being listened to and are valued.
Use One Communication App
There is a boatload of chat and collaboration apps in the market. However, if you and your staff are using various tools to communicate with one another, you aren’t doing so efficiently. Maybe you use email and Slack and Whatsapp and SMS and who knows what else. If that’s the case, there is nothing but chaos.
Choose one communication method, like Connecteam’s communication app, so you and your employees are all on the same page. Make sure all your employees have the app downloaded and know how to use it (although Connecteam is super easy to use no matter if you’re tech-savvy or not.)
Connecteam helps you streamline communication, limit unnecessary phone calls, and improve employee productivity with its robust communication features made especially for your remote workforce:
- Surveys, Suggestion Box, and Live Polls: use a suggestion box to gain feedback so that every employee voice is heard and make smarter decisions based on results from organizational surveys and live-polls.
- Announcements, Newsletters, and Updates: communicate one-on-one, to a group, or the entire organization with rich and engaging content through features like pre-scheduled updates, social engagement support for likes and comments, share GIFs, videos, and memes, and automated follow-up capabilities.
- Employee Recognition and Acknowledgment: recognize star employees, share employee ‘spotlights’, and allow team members to nominate peers for awards. Boost engagement by celebrating and sharing birthday wishes, anniversaries, personal milestones, and organizational achievements.
Make Scheduling a Breeze
Whether you’re having a phone or conference call (tele or video), you must choose a time that works for everyone’s workday – for some, this might be in the morning while for others, it’s the afternoon or evening. If you find that coordinating a time that works well for everyone’s schedules is a Mount Everest like task, you need to get creative. Try recording the meeting for those who couldn’t be there so they can still watch and listen.
Ask for feedback after a meeting so everyone has a chance to discuss their thoughts and how they thought it went. If you notice a trend or a large problem that many employees bring up, fix it as soon as possible.
Use a scheduling software, like Connecteam, to create shifts for all your employees and get updates if they haven’t clocked in or forgot to clock out. With updates, your employees can “check-in”, “complete” or “reject” a shift so you always know where everyone stands. Connecteam even has a built-in chat app so you and your employee(s) can chat about a shift instantly.
Connect With Remote Employees
When you implement team-building exercises, be sure to ask that your remote employees share insights about their culture and location. This will help to limit misunderstandings related to culture and will help build comradery.
Maintain team-building exercises for remote workers, even if it’s all virtual, so that you can build nurturing relationships – this will only lead to retaining top employees, boosting productivity, and overall happiness. Be sure to notice when you find yourself relating to some employees better than others (if you’re the same gender, come from the same background, share the same beliefs, etc.). Now make a conscious effort to connect to the employees you can’t seem to connect to, they will notice your efforts and will appreciate it, as long as it is genuine.
Focus On Performance
When you are managing remote employees, it can be hard to have direct insight into how they’re getting the work done. Should a customer approach you and say that a remote employee isn’t meeting deadlines or expectations, you need to be able to take care of this quickly and efficiently.
A way to avoid all of this is to be 150% clear about what your expectations are. Your employees need to know what is expected like how many hours they’re putting in or what the end product looks like. Create ground rules together so both of you are always on the same page.
Create a system to evaluate your remote employee’s work so that if you are unhappy with a completed task, you can pinpoint as to why. This will help make things clear for the employee and it will help get them up to speed about what they’re expected to do much quicker.
Help your employees be more productive and minimize distractions by using apps like Todoist or Rescue Time to help your employees focus on tasks and stay on point. Remote employees may not realize how much time they’re wasting scrolling on social media or what tasks they’re behind on – using such apps can help shine a light on where they can boost productivity.
When it comes to effectively manage remote employees, you need to provide feedback in order to fix problems before they spiral out of control. You want your employees to be productive, engaged, and motivated to be a top performer.
Through frequent feedback, you can address issues or challenges that your employees are facing and in turn, you build trust and offer flexibility to make your remote teamwork. Hold video calls to add a layer of trust because sometimes it can help to receive negative news “face-to-face” instead of in an email or phone call.
If you are dealing with a difficult employee, make sure you act sooner rather than later. The point is to nip negativity in the bud instead of dealing with total chaos. Be sure that trust is a key component of your company culture, as is your ability to really be there for your employees, no matter the location. Make sure your employees feel valued, heard, and trusted.
Focus On Company Culture
In any business, creating a positive company culture takes time and it involves a few ingredients: hiring the right people, fostering healthy communication, and conveying that culture company-wide. Depending on the kind of company culture you want to instill, you need to make a proactive effort to translate that to your remote employees.
You must have a plan in place, one that you follow, otherwise, your remote employees won’t feel any connection to the company culture. Think of it like this, if you believe in open communication but you’re never available to talk with your remote employees, then something isn’t adding up. Instead, you need to have a virtual “open door” policy so your remote staff can communicate with anyone needed.
Ensure you have a company culture that engages your remote team!
If any of your remote employees are feeling left out, it’s because they are, unfortunately. It is far easier to recognize the employees you see in-house then your remote workers, or so you think. During meetings or in company-wide updates and announcements, make sure you deliberately point out something a remote employee did that week or month. Not only are you improving productivity but you are showing your remote employees that you care and that you recognize their efforts. A little can go a long way.
If you’re looking for a full guide on how to manage a remote team then our insightful blog can shed even more light, just click here to get started.
Throughout this blog, we have touched on the challenges and solutions of managing remote employees, and below we offer a quick wrap up of what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to managing remote employees.
Key Takeaways When Managing Remote Employees
- Take the time to get to know your remote employees. Take a few minutes during calls to casually talk about stuff that isn’t work-related.
- Create communication channels for both you and your remote employee and also with the remote employee and the team.
- Offer recognition when your remote employee goes above and beyond.
- Worry that your remote employees aren’t doing the work assigned, establish clear metrics of how they will be evaluated.
- Forget to include remote employees in company announcements, updates, etc.
- Neglect to recognize their work or to offer positive feedback.
Working with remote employees and efficiently managing remote employees doesn’t have to a troublesome or time-consuming task. Instead, when done right, they can prove to be your biggest asset.
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